Simplifying CEQA Is Really Complicated

 

Ever since the passage of SB 226 -- the law designed to streamline environment review for infill projects -- the state has been working on changes to the California Environmental Quality Act Guidelines to implement the law. There's a draft of the guidance out (you can find it here), and CEQA-sters Ron Bass and Terry Rivasplata of ICF International did a good job of laying out what the draft says at a session at the American Planning Association, California Chapter, conference.

The bottom line, according to Bass: The guidance is "streamlining by complexity. This is supposed to be streamlining but it's extremely complex."

There's no question that Bass is correct. But that's not the fault of the draft guidelines. It's inherent in CEQA itself. CEQA's an incredibly complex law. Carving out exemptions can be simple, but streamlining is inevitably complex.

For creating infill exemptions, the definition of infill is, of course, crucial. In the guidance, infill is defined as:

-- Being 75% surrounded by existing urban development

-- Meeting the new statewide performance standards for infill contained in the new Appendix M

-- Being consistent with an adopted Sustainable Communities Strategy or Alternative Planning Strategy.

If you qualify, you can do an SCS Environmental Assessment (spelled out in SB 375) or even an Infill EIR, which covers only impacts not previously analyzed, doesn't have to examine alternative locations or densities and doesn't need to look at growth-inducing impacts. "We're creating new stuff here that we have not seen in common practice," says Rivasplata, who acknowledged that he's not sure what an SCS EA or an Infill EIR will look like.

The performance standards will apply to various land uses and will include things like, a lower-than-average vehicle miles traveled (VMT) with the Transportation Analysis Zone (TAZ) or within 1/2 mile of a state-specified transit corridor (the same 15-minute headways specified in other laws like SB 375). Bass joked that the streamlined rules will "only apply in Europe".

The SB 226 guidance even contains a new checklist (Appendix N), which is not only about impacts but about things like, whether you meet the infill requirement.

You can track the rulemaking process by signing up for a listserve here.